RATIONALE: Couples share distress as well as potential personal growth (PG) after a cancer diagnosis. It is essential for professionals to learn more about the ways couples cope together with adversity. Dyadic results may help to understand controversial results in the PG literature and inform clinicians in optimizing psychological support for couples.
OBJECTIVE: We examine the temporal and dyadic development of PG among patients and their intimate partners. In addition, life threat is examined as a potential factor influencing PG after cancer diagnosis.
METHODS: We assessed PG using the Personal Growth Inventory in a clinically representative, mixed-type and mixed-stage cancer cohort (N = 154 couples) 6 and 12 months after cancer diagnosis. Medical data on cancer diagnoses and treatments were collected from physicians. Actor-partner interdependence models were applied.
RESULTS: PG was reported by patients and their partners. Women (either as patients or partners) reported more PG than male patients or partners. PG remained relatively stable over 6 months and was related to whether the patient was receiving curative or palliative treatment. Female patients experienced less PG 6 months after the cancer diagnosis and if treatment was curative. Male patients experienced less PG if their partners experienced PG, and the treatment was curative.
CONCLUSIONS: Dyadic growth is a phenomenon not limited to breast cancer or female patient couples and may represent a form of dyadic coping. Patients and partners seem to develop individual and dyadic growth, depending on a combination of gender and life threat. Psycho-oncology services may want to promote both couple level coping and support in order to optimize cancer care.